Oh, writer’s block, how we loathe thee. When writing’s got you down, here are some ways to break through to the other side.
How to overcome writer’s block
- Take a break
Conventional wisdom applies here, as well. If you’re getting nowhere fast, take a small break to recharge your battery and clear your mind. While it might seem counterproductive to stop, you might ask yourself… stop what, exactly? Stop staring at the screen? Stop scrolling on Facebook telling yourself you’re writing?
Stop the cycle. When the mind wanders while we’re sitting at our computers, our fingers tend to do the same and suddenly we’ve entered an hour-deep rabbit hole on the internet. It happens! But if you’re uninspired, you’re not likely going to find what you need while browsing the internet ‘waiting’ for inspiration to strike.
Instead, take a break and let your subconscious mull the problem over for a bit. If you feel guilty over taking a break, try doing a chore unrelated to your writing. If you’re feeling pent-up, why not go do a workout or clean energetically? Even if you just need a blank moment to sit outside, take it. Believe it or not, you’ll be more productive for having rested your writing brain.
- Take in media related to your writing
Writing fantasy is a completely different kettle of fish than writing a book on marketing strategy, but you’re just as likely to experience writer’s block while trying to think up a new species as you are when deciding what to call your marketing tips so they’re, you know, marketable. Take solace in your peers! They’ve been where you are, and might have a few tips to help you out. See if your favourite authors have a blog, podcast, or suggested resources for writers.
You should also check out books similar to what you’re working on. Going to the competition for inspiration and quality control is a good idea—as long as you don’t plagiarize them, of course. Look for novel (as in new or unique) plot twists you could mirror or planetary descriptions to set your creativity on fire. Your local library can help you here, especially since you can ask a librarian to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Seriously, y’all, librarians are cool as hell and will save you hours of searching.
- Do your research
This ties into the aforementioned media, but goes one step further. Whatever you’re writing, there’s bound to be some level of research involved. Whether that’s simply from engaging in your preferred genre or something more structured like finding quality source material to support arguments you’re making in your text, every good author does their research.
Look into purpose-built material to help you through tough spots. For example, baby name books and registries are extremely useful for naming characters. World atlases offer wonderful descriptions and images of landscapes. Riding a train gives you a feel for what scenes are possible to stage on one. Going to and presenting at conferences helps you write speeches and about (and to) the people in your industry.
Sure, this sounds like take a break. Workouts, however, deserve their own category when discussing writer’s block. Sometimes the very best way to flush an idea out is to make your body sweat. Exercise is incredibly beneficial, and most of us aren’t getting enough on a daily basis. The next time you get writer’s block, try moving your body—it might help you get around the problem!
Take a solid hour to go for a walk, do some yoga, or hit the gym. Give your body enough time to become present in its new environment (even if that’s just itself, looking inward). Think about what you’re doing and be mindful of the motions. Let your body take on more activity than your brain for a little while!
- Write anything else
Rather than pushing yourself through the block on your current writing project, get a blank page and start writing whatever comes to mind. Even if the first words are “this is stupid.” It’s a start. It’s the start of unblocking the word highway that’s stopping you from finishing your important work. Once you start clearing away all the other words in your head, you’ll find your story remains.
In fact, you’ll often find gems hidden in your ramble writings that solve your writer’s block entirely. Key phrases, neat dialogue, an inspired location… what pops up may surprise you. The surprise may also be that you have an entirely different story you’re supposed to be telling, and the one you’re currently working on is getting in the way. As an author, you should never be afraid of a big change in your project. Creativity begets change.
- Seek human contact
Seriously. Go socialize! We need physical and social contact as human beings, so get you some. Play with your pets, cuddle your kids, go bug your partner. If you can’t get near someone physically, phone a friend. Online hangouts are increasingly popular, so don’t discount those. The point here is unapologetically the same: Listen to someone else’s voice other than your own and allow yourself to see the world from a different perspective. Again, your brain needs a little break from what you’re working on. It might be a passion project, but just like the office workaholic, you’re out of balance and it’s starting to show.
Should you talk about your writer’s block? Sure! Why not? Whether your friend is a writer or not, it can be good to talk about your problems. And what’s writer’s block if not one big problem? Now, if you have a writing group you’re part of, they may share their own experiences and solutions with you. They’ll be very understanding and empathetic, because they know what it’s like. You don’t have to give all the specifics to draw on their knowledge, either, so don’t be afraid of sharing too much.
Last but not least, I suggest you try editing what you have already to overcome your writer’s block. This is a great time to implement a style sheet if you haven’t already. Taking the time to do some editing and revising while you’re stuck on a particular progression point will remind you of the big picture. From that perspective, you can tell if you need to add more plot or character development earlier in the story to avoid the problem that has caused your writer’s block.
You may end up shifting some pretty big things around or remembering the character you introduced in chapter seven, but hasn’t been seen since, who can totally save you now. It might be weird to say, but I quite like reading a book a second time. The book is slightly different each time you read it, based on your changing life experiences. This is particularly useful if you’ve been working on a project for a long time or if you’ve had a defining event in your life during the writing process. You may have different skills or requirements for your work than you had before, and this would feed your writer’s block.